Category Archives: Useful and Useless

Goodbye, Two Graf Life!

Sometimes, a project fails. Sometimes, it’s completed. And sometimes, a project with no real plan never goes anywhere. That’s what happened to Two Graf Life, a good idea that I never really gave a chance. In its nearly 3 years in existence, I managed to write only 27 posts for it.

So I pulled the plug. I deleted the blog, let the domain name go and moved on – just a few days ago. Now, those 27 posts along with the About page that introduced them are here for you to enjoy.

After all, you deserve more than a one graf life.

About Two Graf Life

Welcome to Two Graf Life, a secret blog project by Gip Plaster. You see, I started this blog without promoting it online or telling anyone about it. So if you’ve found it, I hope you’ll consider yourself lucky. There’s some really interesting stuff here. And if you know me personally and have found it, you’re doing even better.

This is a personal blog cut down to size — without fluff. It’s simple in a way that those bloggers who write 2,000-word posts could never imagine. Every post is just two paragraphs. Why only two paragraphs? That’s plenty of space to address any one issue or comment on any one thing. If I have more to say, I’ll say it another time. My time is valuable and so is yours, so there’s no point going on and on about any topic. When you’ve made your point, it’s time to stop.

The 27 Posts Of Two Graf Life

A First Post That Says It All

April 12, 2016

Maybe I shouldn’t give everything away in the first post, but I’m doing it anyway. This is really a test post to make sure the blog is working right, but lots of things in life are about testing the waters. I’ve created this blog because I’m a forty-something guy who still hasn’t figured out the purpose of my life, and I’m going to explore life’s many purposes here with you — just a couple paragraphs at a time.

Here’s what I know so far: a meaningful life must include people, places and things that feel important. It doesn’t necessarily include travel (as so many bloggers suggest) or a big family (as so many bloggers suggest). But what are the essential components of a good life? What needs to be rejected? And what does it mean when a test post sets such a broad pathway for a blogging project? Let’s find out.


Another Blog Nobody Reads

May 3, 2016

Is that really what the world needs? There are thousands — maybe millions — of blogs online that no one reads. Why should I start another? But some blogging projects are more for ordering the minds of the people who create them that for reaching an audience. Still, I suspect people will soon be reading — and commenting, even on old posts like this one that no one saw at first.

There’s something very liberating about writing for no one to read. You’re free to say what you like. I write thousands of words for my writing clients every day, and some of those never get read either. It makes sense that I’d write a few for myself as well — even if they never find an audience. It’s cathartic if nothing else. Besides, there’s no harm in writing a blog no one reads. The words may eventually reach someone who wants or needs them.


When You Need A Plumber…

May 7, 2016

When you need a plumber, the first and smartest choice may be to become a plumber — at least for a few minutes. When it was time to replace the inside of our toilet tank recently, I kept putting it off because I remember how hard it was last time. But I have experience now. While I could have shelled out a couple hundred dollars to have my toilet fixed, I opted to use $12 of my money and less than an hour of my time to solve this minor plumbing issue. It worked out fine, and it was much easier and quicker than I remembered it being.

I like the idea of being the change you want to see in the world. I like the old Army advertising slogan encouraging you to be all you can be. And sometimes, what you need to be is a plumber. There’s nothing scary about it or even particularly complicated. You simply have to learn the skill in the same way you learned to groom your beard, paint your nails or blow into a trumpet. And the sound of a perfectly functioning toilet after months of gulps and glurps is indeed music.


It’s Time To Get This Started

June 11, 2016

Finding ways to express myself is important to a more stable and happy future. Could the same be true for you? I’ve found it difficult to find happiness and fulfillment recently, and one of the biggest obstacles standing between me and greater contentment is a feeling of being disconnected, stifled or unable to connect with others. Sharing two paragraphs with a very small audience won’t solve that problem, but starting each morning by focusing on offering a positive message based on my life experiences certainly can’t hurt in my quest to move forward with my life.

So it’s time to get this blog project started. I’ve put up a few explanatory and test posts in the last few weeks as the idea for this project was formulating in my head, but I feel like I’ve reached an important point in my life — one from which I can now move forward. More on that later. For now, I hope you’ll find a way to move forward from whatever challenges you face as I use this blog project as one of the tools to help me have a happier and more fulfilled life.


Crisis Point

June 13, 2016

I can’t pin down exactly what’s been happening in my life that led to a lower level of happiness and satisfaction than ever before, but I know that I’ve reached the crisis point and am ready to climb out, move forward and reach greater heights than ever before. As a tall person, achieving the height of personal satisfaction should come more naturally to me.

I can’t point to any incidents that have resulted in reaching this crisis point, but I feel it within in me. And I feel a stronger desire to overcome this mid-life obstacle than ever before. Life can wear us down at times because there’s so much to do, so many negative influences to which we can succumb and so many ways we could have done better in the past. But the future holds endless possibilities when we put aside our insistence on dwelling on the negative and look at how many circumstances are working toward our good. I feel pretty good right now, and I hope you do too. Let’s maintain some positivity as we move forward from our crisis points and move in hope toward a future with so much potential that it can’t be contained.


Maybe The Good Life Doesn’t Need To Include Travel

June 14, 2016

So many people advise that travel is an important part of reaching a full understanding of life and your place in it. But I’ve always had a problem deciding how I feel about that. I’ve been inspired by churches, natural beauty and human-created marvels in cities near and far, but I often don’t sleep well in hotels and don’t like driving or riding around all day. Sometimes I wonder if my mind has the ability to create better experiences that I can find by exploring the world.

I don’t have an answer here. But I think this much is certain: life isn’t empty, hollow or narrow if you can’t or don’t travel. Travel is one way to expand your horizons, but it certainly isn’t the only way. Meditation, attending local events and meeting new people also expands your viewpoint. The important thing, I think, is to keep doing new things to challenge yourself. Otherwise, life gets dull and stagnate.


Midlife Crisis

June 16, 2016

What’s a midlife crisis? According to my dictionary, it’s a crisis of identity and perhaps self-confidence that happens to some people as we get to early middle age. That sounds like what’s happening in my life. It’s interesting that many sources also include the idea that people start buying things they don’t need and start trying to act younger as they enter a midlife crisis. But I don’t want to be young again. And I don’t want any more stuff.

In fact, I want less of most things. I’ve found that being surrounded by things makes me nervous and even unhappy. To find greater happiness, I need less junk, a clearer head and more meaningful and interesting things to do that make a real difference in the world. I don’t need a Corvette, and I hope you don’t either. My midlife crisis is about simplicity and usefulness, not about showing off how many things I’ve acquired. And some definitions of a midlife crisis include erratic behavior that hurts people, and I don’t want to hurt anyone.


I Think It’s Called Contentment

June 16, 2016

The feeling that I’m searching for in life is an elusive thing called contentment. It’s more than just moments of happiness. It’s a long-term and perhaps permanent feeling that everything’s okay — and maybe even very nice. It’s a consistent baseline feeling that I don’t always have. Having contentment means there’s no room in your life for despair and that temporary setbacks like bad news and bad circumstances don’t completely derail your life.

The goal for my life — and perhaps for you — is to expand the contentment that I sometimes feel to form a safety net under my whole life that keeps low moments from going too low. With that net in place, it’s easier to recover from the hard times because the climb back up to normal isn’t as steep or as high. I’m on a journey toward permanent contentment, and I’m glad you’re with me.


An Appointment To Get At The End Of The Line

June 17, 2016

When a tire store near me first started offering appointments, I set one up to have my tires balanced and rotated. When I got there, they told me there was a long wait. That’s no problem for me, I said, since I have an appointment. I was informed, however, that an appointment qualified me to get at the end of the line when I arrived. Years later, I tried an appointment at the same shop and arrived 15 minutes early. When I asked what was taking so long to get started since the shop wasn’t busy, I was told that they were waiting for my appointment time before starting on my car.

Yes, those things actually happened. Even though the people at the store seemed reasonably intelligent, they couldn’t see past their misunderstanding of company policies to see how ridiculous these two situations were. They were caught up in rules. Why make an appointment to get at the end of the line when anyone walking in can do that? And why delay the work of someone with an appointment until the clock looks right? If you don’t understand the problem with these two situations, you just might be too caught up in silly rules and nonsense yourself. And I hope you aren’t.


Writing Is My Compulsion

June 21, 2016

As you’ve probably already guessed, writing is a kind of compulsion for me. You see, I don’t usually plan what I write when I’m writing these essays. I simply start typing, and a relatively well-organized bit of text emerges. The process of writing like this helps me arrange my thoughts in a way that I can’t do if I’m not writing. The process of putting a couple of paragraphs of heartfelt prose into the world makes me feel better. This doesn’t happen when I’m doing writing work for other people, however. It’s something special that happens when I write without an agenda.

Do you have something in your life that you feel compelled to do by some inner force that you don’t understand? If you’re compelled by money, a family member or something else, that’s not the same thing. But if there’s something in your life you feel motivated to do for no particular reason, it’s probably really important. And you won’t find happiness unless you find ways to do it.


Am I Actually The Luckiest Guy In The World?

June 22, 2016

Some might say that I’m among the luckiest (or most blessed, most fortunate) people in the world. I have someone to love and have since I was 17, I have a job writing, which is something that I love — and I set my own hours. I rarely work all day, and when I do, it’s by choice. But why do I often feel like something’s missing from my life?

I know that my life doesn’t involve as many friends as I’d like and it doesn’t involve as much variety or as many new experiences as I’d prefer. But really, is there all that much wrong? Do you have the same problem I do? Do you often wish for and hope for things toward which you aren’t working? And do you fail to notice just how much you already have going for you? You may be a lot luckier — more blessed or even happier, perhaps — than you realize.


Writing Is Also Therapy

June 23, 2016

I mentioned that writing is a compulsion for me — something I must do. But it’s also a kind of therapy that helps me organize my thoughts and get things off my chest. In fact, when I don’t have a blog project or some other way to express my feelings, I don’t feel right. No other means of expression impacts me in the same way that writing does.

You must have something like that in your life. What do you do to clear your head, improve your perspective and simply make you feel better? I’ve heard others mentioning that swimming, hiking and doing jigsaw puzzles can have a therapeutic effect. For me, it’s typing words onto a page, just as I’m doing now. I feel better already.


Finding Time For Happiness Instead Of Work

June 29, 2016

I write hundreds of words every day — and thousands of words many days. Yet most of the time, it’s only the writing that I do for myself and my own projects that really makes me feel good. Interestingly, I have trouble finding time to write these two paragraphs for Two Graf Life even though I’m always writing. In a way, that means I’m having trouble fitting happiness, satisfaction and contentment into my life.

Are there things you really enjoy doing? And do you have trouble finding time to do them? If that’s the case with you as it is with me, I would suggest that there’s a flaw in how your life is organized. While it isn’t always possible, why not put pleasure ahead of all else? You, your family and others who are important to you come before work, errands and chores, don’t they? So why are our lives organized as if work is what’s most important? It just doesn’t make sense.


Are The Sore Shoulders From Writing Or Worrying?

June 30, 2016

When I type a lot in a day without much variety in my activities, my shoulders get sore. Or at least I think that’s what happens. I sometimes think that worrying about hurting myself by working too much is harder on my shoulders than the work itself. If I could take a more relaxed attitude, there might be less pain in my life.

Do you do things every day that cause you pain? Could it be that the pain is the result of worrying about the things rather than the task itself? It may seem like a strange idea to you, but I believe most of my pain issues are caused by stress, worry and attitude. While typing can cause pain, so can stress and worry. So why not join me in trying to put aside actions and thoughts that derail your life unnecessarily?


“I Failed To…”

August 27, 2016

I have a relative who often says “I failed to write that in my checkbook” or the cashier “failed to give me a receipt” — when what she means is “I didn’t” or “he didn’t”. It must be really hard on your self-esteem to consider every small misstep or tiny variation from the usual routine a failure. I’ve never failed to do anything, but I have made a few mistakes along the way.

Even if you’ve experienced something that seems like a failure, it’s important to realize that the situation is only temporary. If you’ve failed someone you love, failed to write something on your grocery list or failed an important test, you’re not a failure. You’ve just experienced a temporary blip, a momentary power failure or a fleeting fowl-up. But when you let failure language creep into your everyday life, you’re setting yourself up for real failure. And you don’t want that.


I’m Focusing On Medical Issues For A Season

October 22, 2016

With some members of my family focusing on medical issues for a while, I’ve decided to focus on a few medical concerns of my own and get a physical. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the doctor. Dwelling on health issues seems to magnify them, so I prefer to avoid them. Doesn’t it make you feel worse to think about your chronic issues? Isn’t it easier when you just ignore them and get on with your life?

But some health issues can’t be completely ignored. While I don’t like the idea of focusing on what may be wrong with me, I’m allowing it in this season because there’s already a lot of talk about medical problems around me anyway. And there are some things with my own health that really need attention. I hope that by the time spring comes, I’ll be experiencing a renewal in my own life. And then all this focus on medical issues can fade into the background — where it belongs.


Rethinking The Medical Profession

November 1, 2016

On my old blog, So Much More Life, I wrote a post called Does A Simple, Minimalist Approach Work With Health Care? I didn’t express an entirely favorable view of the medical profession. And I still don’t like the idea of placing our health in other people’s hands. But some recent health issues in my family have proven that excellent medical care is available in some cases.

Still, the American healthcare system is needlessly complex and often uncaring — and I don’t like big systems much anyway. But this system works in many cases. When you need healthcare, I hope the system works for you. When combined with prayer, meditation, a positive attitude and support from others, our medical system can be one part of staying healthy. But I don’t recommend that you turn your well-being over to anyone — even if they’re trained professionals.


Questioning The Benefits Of Being A Complainer

November 8, 2016

I’ve never been shy about sending an email when I don’t like something about a restaurant or store. I even complained to the state insurance board when an insurance company refused to issue a refund I deserved — and eventually got it. But I’m questioning the idea of complaining to big companies and institutions now. I’ve noticed that fewer companies respond or offer any compensation now, and I don’t think putting all that negative energy out there in the universe really does any good.

As a side job, I’ve written some management responses for online hotel reviews for a large Internet company in India. I write a lot of content for them too. I know that when I write the review response, it means the people in charge at the hotel may never read the review. I also know that all the complaining I read in those reviews seems petty, silly and useless. Who cares if the gravy at breakfast wasn’t very hot. And does it matter that a tile on the bathroom floor was cracked? Do I sound that way when I complain? Do you? Complaining may not be part of a happy life.


Building A Full Life From What’s Around You

November 15, 2016

I believe it’s possible to build a great life from what’s already around you. If you live in a situation that isn’t your ideal — too rural, too high up or too noisy, for example — you can learn to make the best of it. If you live with people who don’t support you fully, you may be able to adjust your interactions with them to make the best of what they have to offer without being brought down by their negativity.

You see, it’s tempting to say that life will really get going once you solve some of your problems. But those problems are life. You’ll always be surrounded by issues that need your attention as well as people and situations that are less than ideal. But there’s no reason to let those small failings become major obstacles for you. Life is, as they say, what you make it. While it may be motivating to strive for more, what you have now could be plenty for today. Don’t you agree?


Growing Up To Play Games

January 3, 2017

I didn’t participate in sports when I was a kid, and I didn’t play many other kinds of games either. I may have played Chinese checkers with my parents or messed around with Connect Four, but I didn’t allow much time in my life for game-playing. I certainly didn’t watch others play games like football or baseball on television. But I find myself playing games now.

In 2016, I got involved in two different hobbies that are essentially scavenger hunt games. And I like them. My work as a writer keeps me inside, and these games get me out and around. I’ll tell you more about the games later, but I thought you might find it interesting that I had to grow up before I became interested in games. I’m in a phase in my life where I welcome frivolity, and I hope you are too.


Don’t Be A Hard Shell

June 23, 2017

When I was a teenager, I overheard a conversation between my mother and the pastor of the church that she and I attended. She was telling the pastor that some of our relatives are “hard shells” — which he correctly understood to mean they were associated with the Hard Shell Baptist — or Primitive Baptist — church, a very conservative sect. The denomination doesn’t believe in working with other congregations on mission boards and other projects. They keep to themselves and practice the old ways.

“Maybe someday, somehow, that shell can be cracked,” our pastor said. Maybe. My relatives involved with the sect died years ago, but it still exists. And I’m happy to let people practice whatever religion they want — as long as they don’t try to interfere with other people and their beliefs. But I don’t like the idea of being old-fashioned or rigid. Do you?


You Deserve More Than A One Graf Life

July 6, 2017

There’s a reason this site isn’t called One Graf Life. Life isn’t meant to be a one-act play, a short story or a single paragraph. I believe life is meant to have multiple phases, facets and sections. If you’re living a one paragraph life — where everything aligns to a single idea — you’re missing so much of what this world and your existence have to offer.

When you get a chance, change the subject — or at least approach the subject of your life from a new way. Try to live a two paragraph life — or one that’s made up of three, four or even more parts. When you do, you’ll see that some of your firmly held beliefs slough away. What’s left is your core. It turns out that when you explore life from multiple perspectives, you learn more about what matters most to you.


A Focus On Words In 2018

January 10, 2018

For 2018, I think I’ll focus on words. Words are my job, and words are my passion too. Today, even simple messages are often presented in a graphical format — like memes, for example. But great words stand on their own. They very literally speak for themselves. In generations past, generating images wasn’t as easy as it is now. And communication was deeper and more thorough, even if was less often.

Maybe this will be the year when words rise again, at least in my life. I work with words and play with them too. I use them as I was trained to use them, and I break a few rules when it suits me. I ask questions. I give answers. I offer advice. I comment. And for all of these forms of expressions, I use words. I love images as much as anyone — and I take a lot of photos. Sure, sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words, but words can conjure up great images too. Will you join me in focusing a bit more on the unmatched power of words?


RVs Were The Original Tiny Houses

January 11, 2018

During a discussion with a full-time RVer recently, I had an unoriginal thought: RVs are the original tiny houses. While tiny houses are part of the downsizing movement that seems to be sweeping — or at least creeping up on — the world, thousands of people have been living by choice in travel trailers, recreational vehicles and similar abodes for years. They’re saving money and sometimes saving their souls.

I think a lot about housing situations because I’m not entirely happy with mine. Yet I already have what most people are striving for: safety, comfort, just enough space and a rural setting, among other things. So what am I worried about? I’m concerned that there could be a better way for me to live that I haven’t discovered yet. And it would be foolish not to consider all my options. Are you living your best life in the best possible living situation?


Not So Routine After All


Yesterday, we left the house a little earlier than usual for a day when we didn’t have any scheduled plans. It was getting cold later in the day, and we wanted to be home before that happened. I find comfort in keeping to a regular routine sometimes, but I also really enjoy doing things differently when it suits me.

By leaving early, we got home early, and I got a lot of writing work done that I wouldn’t have finished otherwise. We also saw a sheep and some goats at the mall, which we hadn’t planned or expected. (They had been brought in for a morning children’s program.) When you shake up your routine, you might find the unexpected as well. Isn’t it time to throw out the program, at least for a day or two?


Putting Clean Laundry In Dirty Baskets

January 13, 2018

When our washing machine stopped working a few months ago, we visited a laundromat for the first time in about 12 years. We saw something that I think is incredibly strange: people would bring in dirty laundry in a dirty basket, wash the clothes, fold them carefully and then put them back in the same basket to take them home. They were putting clean clothes in a dirty hamper.

I see all kinds of life lessons in this action. Most importantly, someone who puts clean clothes into a dirty basket can’t be present in the moment, careful or mindful. And they certainly aren’t progressing very far in the game of life. Do you make mindless mistakes like that in your daily life? If so, why not be more attentive? Why not be good at everything you do? Why not be careful, mindful and sensible? When you pay attention to the details of life, you may find that life treats you better.


“You’re No Different Than Everyone Else”

January 26, 2018

That’s what the dentist told me. He said that most people think their dental problems are unique, but most people’s issues are actually very similar. He said the mouthguard he recommended and that I bought would work for 98 percent of people. But mine didn’t. Fortunately, he’s a person of integrity, so after trying to make adjustments, he gave me my money back.

It’s true that we share many things in common with those we think are different. There’s a lesson in that. But do we really share similar dental issues? I’m beginning to think mine really are unique, and that’s okay. There’s a lesson there too. Sometimes, we’re alike. Sometimes we’re just slightly less alike.

A Wichita Falls Day Trip Or Weekend Trip Is More Interesting Than You Might Think

Wichita Falls makes a great day trip from Fort Worth — or anywhere in North Texas. If you’ve never been to this city of 100,000 people located 120 miles to the northwest, you may be surprised that it’s a vibrant college town with plenty to do.

While the downtown and some other parts of the city still appear largely neglected, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Locals insist there is slow improvement in many areas of the city.

When judging any town against the vibrancy and variety of things to do in Fort Worth, it’s sure to fall short. But if you’re dying to see something different and get out of the Fort for a day or two, you should consider some time in Wichita Falls.

Since I grew up in declining Jacksboro — halfway between Wichita Falls and Fort Worth — I experienced both towns regularly as a kid. It’s obvious which became my favorite, but Wichita Falls has more to do than ever. And that unique red dirt makes you feel like you’ve left the Metroplex behind.

[This post originally appeared on my Fort Worth Secrets website, which I discontinued. It was written in September 2016.]

Wichita Falls, Texas Points Of Interest

There’s plenty to occupy your time in Wichita Falls. We focused on nature and art during our Tuesday through Wednesday visit in September 2015 and weren’t disappointed. Here are the places we visited:

River Bend Nature Center
A highlight of the trip was the River Bend Nature Center, which has a small entrance fee. If you come with children, there are activities that could occupy the family for hours. For us, the visit started with a quick walk around the educational area to see the insects and snakes exhibited there. A young and knowledgeable guide who considers the creatures on exhibit his personal friends made this enjoyable. We also explored the glass conservatory with the required docent and visited the prairie dogs and butterflies. Then we ventured off on the nature trail on our own. There is both a well-maintained accessible trail and a rougher version on which we managed to get lost.

Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU
Located on the campus of Midwestern State University, this museum is larger than you might expect. But don’t expect any classic works of art. And strangely, getting to the building requires going through a shopping center parking lot. Once there, you’ll find a cavernous main gallery and three smaller ones. The main exhibit when we visited was an uninspiring look at works by a Metroplex artist. Two of the smaller galleries were more compelling and featured some local works. Allow only an hour or less to see the museum, but it’s worth a stop, and there’s no admission charge. The building features a new performance area just outside the front entrance.

The Kemp Center for the Arts
Another highlight of our Wichita Falls trip was the free Kemp Center for the Arts. This historic building features rotating exhibit space and an outdoor sculpture garden. It was easy to see from the surrounding neighborhood why the building has an overstated fence around it. The center also hosts events in it’s elegant Great Hall and houses the Wichita Falls Symphony offices. Be sure to see both floors of art inside, and slow down a bit and wander around outside in the garden area if the weather permits. The receptionist downstairs will point you to the best bits.

The Museum of North Texas History
The strangest of the things we visited in Wichita Falls, the Museum of North Texas History is dominated by junky and fading exhibits and hand-typed note cards. But there are interesting miniatures, lots of military history exhibits and a display about how oil wells work. Plus, they have an iron lung, a medical relic I had never seen before. Since it’s free, it’s worth a brief visit, but you won’t find exhibits of the quality and interactivity that you expect from modern museums.

Wee Chi Ta Sculpture
Located in a poorly maintained area of town near a free veterinary clinic with a line of people waiting outside it the morning we visited, the signage and trails around the sculpture are a bit rough as well. But the sculpture is beautiful and compelling. It’s based on a legend about the how the town got its name, although most agree the legend couldn’t be true.

We weren’t able to visit these attractions during our two-day stay:

The Falls in Lucy Park
I remember the campaign to build the falls when I was a kid. And I remember that the river was so muddy on dedication day that they pumped in water from fire hoses for the dedication so it wouldn’t look so bad. Today, there’s a nice walking trail from the Lucy Park parking area to the falls — or simply view them as you pass on I-44.

Kell House Museum
Closed on the day we tried to visit, the Kell House Museum looked a bit rundown from the outside. Still, it’s promoted as one of the most significant buildings in the city from an architectural standpoint and is billed as featuring original furnishings, costumes and decorative arts. Guided tours are available, but they aren’t open on Wednesdays.

You don’t need to worry with the World’s Littlest Skyscraper. While the story is interesting, it’s only a small antique store down a narrow alley.

If you find that the town doesn’t impress you, use up your remaining time wandering Sikes Senter Mall, a mainstay of the town for decades. Plus, choosing to visit during one of the many Wichita Falls events helps ensure a better experience for certain travelers too.

You may also enjoy:

An iron lung at the Museum of North Texas History.

Things To See Along The Way

From Fort Worth, you can access Wichita Falls from Highway 199 — which merges with Highway 281 at Jacksboro and is called Henderson Street or Jacksboro Highway around here — or from Highway 287. While Highway 287 is a better road, taking Highways 199 and 281 makes more sense unless you live where you can easily access the larger freeway-like road.

If you take Highways 199 and 281, your trip takes you through Jacksboro and Windthorst. Neither town is particularly interesting, but there are two points of interest worth noting. You’ll enjoy seeing all the new wind turbines along the way too.

Just outside Jacksboro, a very modest town with less than 4,000 residents, is Fort Richardson State Park (fee required), where you can see ruins and reconstructions of post-Civil War era buildings, enjoy a small lake, camp for the night or walk the nature trails.

In Windthorst, a tiny blip of a town with about 400, you may enjoy a peek inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a beautiful and unique church with a famous grotto outside. Be sure to drive across to Windthorst General Store — also called the Old Weinzapfel General Store — an authentic mercantile that’s still in operation.

A Few Thoughts Before You Go

Maybe a Wichita Falls day trip or weekend trip isn’t as exciting as a drive down to Austin or San Antonio. Even Oklahoma City has more to do.

But when you choose to go to Wichita Falls, you’re choosing a route with less traffic and a town with absolutely no pretense. It isn’t a big town, but it’s an important regional hub with several worthwhile attractions. And it isn’t a beautiful town, but it has some beautiful and interesting spots you won’t want to miss.

And if you can’t find enough to do, you can always keep moving. There’s a casino and the striking Wichita Mountains just to the north.

Learn More

An Evening In Fort Worth, Texas Without A Plan Can Serve A Purpose

When we’re out on the town in Fort Worth, we usually spend our time at events like plays, concerts and art openings. We rarely go out without a real plan. But we did twice last week, and both evenings went really well. What do you do when you don’t have a plan?

Last Wednesday, we started out with our usual walk and did some necessary shopping. Then David sold a few books at Half Price Books on Hwy. 183. Part of simple living is getting rid of things you don’t need, after all. The highlight of the evening was our first visit to Le’s Wok, a little Asian restaurant in a convenience store on the Near South Side with a great back story about the family who owns it recovering from an attack and competing with the newly opened QT convenience store across the street.

We picked up some cinnamon rolls at Esperanza’s on Park Place (where a sign says the parking is only for Ezmerelda’s patrons!) and then stopped by the Clearfork Food Park where there were two guys playing music and a private party of some kind in progress. We wandered on the river a bit and marveled at a big white bird. Then we finished the evening with some chocolate custard at Curly’s Frozen Custard on Camp Bowie. We should have had peach again, but I wanted something different.

We had no real reason to go out again the next night, but I wanted to. So we took back two of the things we bought on Wednesday that didn’t work and headed toward the Cultural District. We didn’t want to spend much money on dinner, so In-N-Out served the purpose. (Our current order is singles without cheese, mustard instead of sauce, add pickles and onions. I give David my tomato.) Then we strolled through the Amon Carter to have another look at an exhibit that we hadn’t enjoyed the previous week and see if we could make more sense of it. We did.

Next, we headed down Summit to check out the cramped newish Goodwill near Cleburne Road at Berry. After examining an ancient rice cooker and looking at a selection of DVDs that included a collection of Mormon sermons, we pointed the car toward Central Market. The goal was to get a piece of Italian cream cake to share for dessert, but somewhere between Tom Thumb and Trader Joe’s on Hulen we decided to have a dipped cone at McDonald’s instead, a good choice.

So what made these two evenings out so nice? They don’t sound very interesting, do they? They were opportunities to recover from the big experiences of life instead of actually being experiences in their own right. They provided time for us to unwind, let our sore muscles heal and clear our heads. And they were meaningful times together when no one else was looking.

In fact, maybe I shouldn’t have shared so much about our two uneventful evenings on the town. Some Fort Worth secrets are best left unspoken, I suppose.

But I want to make sure you never feel like you’ve run out of things to do. Instead, unplanned evenings out are times when you’re recovering from previous experiences and planning for others. There are concerts, plays, art galleries and, of course plenty of hours of work of one kind or another ahead of you. But why not put those out of your mind and stay in the moment? It might be a moment when looking at all the buttons on an old rice cooker is entertainment enough.

How To Make A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

I’ve been experimenting recently with how to make things in an electric waffle maker besides waffles. As it turns out, almost everything I’ve tried has been a success, and there’s no simpler way to make a really good grilled cheese than in a waffle maker.

Stay with me for a minute and I’ll tell you how to do it, but as with most everything else I write, there’s a bit of story first.

Other Uses For Your Waffle Maker

It all started a couple of months ago when I bought an Oster Belgian waffle maker. I can’t even remember what got me interested in having one, but since I don’t like gadgets and I don’t like having useless junk around, it took me a while to decide to buy one.

Then, I set out to find other uses for a waffle maker besides just making waffles. As it turns out there are many. The only thing that hasn’t worked very well is making brownies, but that’s a story for another day.

Any kind of bread can be cooked in a waffle maker — including canned biscuits and crescent rolls. And I’ve heard you can even reheat pizza — although I haven’t tried that yet.

While a waffle maker is sold as a single-use machine, it isn’t. It fits perfectly into my simple lifestyle and my strained budget.

Making A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

After some experimentation, I found that the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a waffle maker is to slap it together and cook it for 90 seconds. That could be the end of the story, but I’ll explain a bit more.

My preferred way to make a grilled cheese has always been to butter two pieces of bread, then start toasting them butter side down in a hot skillet. I add two slices of cheddar or American cheese to one piece of bread, then put the other butter side up over the bread and cheese. Then, I smoosh — that is, squish them together with a spatula. A quick turn to make sure both sides are toasted evenly and the process is complete.

I tried using buttered bread in the waffle maker, but that just made a greasy and wet sandwich. I found that two slices of cheese between two slices of wheat bread (or something with a bit of sugar in it) works best. Smash the waffle maker closed slightly but not all the way and cook for a minute and a half. If your waffle maker is conditioned well, you don’t need any oil or spray.

That’s it. Process complete. And although I like a long story as much as anyone, there’s really nothing more to say.

Need A Best Buy Email Address? This Might Work For You

If you think Best Buy doesn’t offer customer service by email, you’re wrong. But the company doesn’t make it easy for you. I solved my problem with the company after I finally located a Best Buy email address that works.

At least it worked for me. I’ll tell you how I reached them — and maybe it will work for you too.

My Best Buy Complaint

My problem with Best Buy was very straightforward, but it took six weeks to resolve — and I resolved it by email.

In November 2012, I ordered a $10 MetroPCS By-The-Minute plan card. I’ve ordered these from the company several times since this kind of card was previously unavailable locally. And because I have so much built-up credit on my cell phone, I don’t need the $20 card that’s available at Walmart. (You can now get the $10 card at some MetroPCS corporate stores.)

What was my complaint? I ordered the card and didn’t get it.

You don’t get an actual card, but your supposed to get a code by email within a few minutes — and I didn’t get it. It should be a simple matter to look up the code on the Best Buy website or click a button to ask that the code be resent, but those options aren’t available. Once a code is lost in space, it’s gone forever.

Frustrated that there was no email address for Best Buy listed on their site, I called the 800 number. The representative said this kind of issue is handled by a special department, but his attempts to transfer me failed because that department didn’t answer.

There was nothing more he could do for me. My time explaining the problem and waiting on hold was wasted.

Toward A Best Buy Email Address

I searched the Internet for an email addresses for Best Buy and found a couple. They didn’t work.

So I took another approach. I explained my complaint on the Best Buy Facebook page. (To do that yourself, “like” Best Buy at— then write on their wall. It won’t do any good to write on your own wall.)

To my surprise, someone from the company responded almost immediately — telling me to email them with the details. What email address did they give me? This is what you’ve been waiting for:

I got no immediately response, but after a couple of weeks someone answered. The representative asked for my order information and confirmed that I still hadn’t gotten the code. She also offered a $15 gift card as compensation for my trouble.

I explained that their failure actually cost me an addition $10 since I had to go to Walmart and buy a $20 card when I only needed a $10 card, but that argument wasn’t successful in getting me any additional compensation. She requested a mailing address — not an email address — for the $15 gift card, perhaps because she doesn’t trust the company’s email system either.

It was another couple of weeks after I responded to the Best Buy representative I reached through before I got a confirmation and a notice that the charge on my credit card has been reversed. Several days later, I finally got the gift card in the mail.

It took more than six weeks to resolve my Best Buy complaint by email, but since the telephone customer service representative couldn’t help me and didn’t offer any alternatives, what choice did I have but to look for another solution?

Final Thoughts

If this approach hadn’t worked, I planned to contest the charge with my credit card company and let their reps handle Best Buy for me.

By the way, I used the $15 card to buy my January phone card, and I got the code in my email within a few minutes. So there’s hope if you have a problem with Best Buy, but don’t expect a quick resolution or to be able to handle the situation with one simple email as you can with so many other company.

Why doesn’t Best Buy publish an email address? Maybe someone from the company will see this post and respond. But I doubt it. The company doesn’t seem to be Internet savvy.

Still, I’ll post a link on their Facebook page.

Effective Complaining, Creative Complaining: The Whole Jar Of Mushrooms

Complaining to a company about a substandard product or an unpleasant situation can be very effective. In many cases, the company will more than make up for its lapses with coupons, discounts, free items and many other kinds of compensation.

I don’t complain to a company or organization often, but when I do, I almost always get results. The purpose of this post is to tell you an interesting story about creative complaining that someone told me, but first let me tell you how effective my own complaining has been.

Effective Complaining

Off the top of my head, I can think of several situations about which I complained and for which I received compensation. I’ll tell you about three of them.

When I complained by email to a local museum a couple of months ago that I was turned away from viewing their galleries for free because the desk clerk didn’t know the museum was supposed to be free at that time, I received a free lunch, free admission to the galleries and free admission to one of their events — for all three of us who were turned away.

When I complained several years ago to a company that their breakfast cookies weren’t available at a local store as their website said they were, the company sent me a sampler box containing several varieties of their cookies. (And because I liked some of them, I ordered from the company several times.)

Perhaps even longer ago I complained to the corporate office of a fast-food restaurant in Plano because I received a chicken sandwich with only half a piece of chicken in it. The company was switching to smaller pieces for its sandwiches, and the manager at that location thought cutting down some of the old ones was a good way to use them up. I got a gift card for my trouble, and I like to think the manager got a blemish on his record for being so cheap.

There have been others, but I neither want to brag about how much I complain nor embarrass or promote the companies that have been most receptive to my complaints.

Watch Out For A Whole Jar Of Mushrooms

Being creative with the way you complain can increase effectiveness.

A postal clerk I used to see frequently told me about a snail-mail letter — she was a postal clerk, after all — that she sent to a major maker of spaghetti sauce.

I can’t remember her exact wording, of course, but I remember enough to give you a good idea of what she said to them. Here’s my re-creation of the letter she sent the company:

Dear sirs:

I’m not writing to complain, but I wanted to let you know to expect a complaint from another customer soon.

I bought a jar of your spaghetti sauce with mushrooms last week and at first thought it contained no mushrooms. After I dumped it into a bowl and went through it, I found that it did, in fact, contain two mushroom slices.

There were so many mushrooms missing from my jar that I want you to be watching for a complaint from a customer who got a whole jar of mushrooms. Someone must have gotten mine.


Within a couple of weeks, she had an envelope full of high-value coupons from the company and an apology.

She was creative, and it was effective.

I’m rarely creative with my complaining, but I’m always firm and direct. That’s effective too.

Is “Rototiller” A Trademark? And Why I Care

Is the term “Rototiller” trademarked? It’s the kind of question a writer like me finds myself asking. I’ll tell you why I needed to know — then I’ll tell you the answer.

The Weirdness Of A Writer’s Life

One of the writing agencies for which I sometimes work allows writers to pick up open orders, join writing teams and also accept direct orders from clients. I almost never manage to snag any of the orders that are offered to one of the four teams that have accepted me, but earlier this week, I caught a few quick and simple orders from one of the teams.

One of the requests was simple enough: a few hundred words about rototilling.

But I can’t do that, can I? If Rototiller is a trademarked term, then rototilling isn’t a real word. This agency requires Associated Press style (which I studied in journalism school), but no stylebook approves of repeatedly using a fake verb based on the improper use of trademarked noun.

So I’ll skip the assignment, I thought. But I need the work, and there was nothing else to do at that moment.

I took the job after I discovered that my concerns were unfounded.

You see, writers are concerned with little details like whether a word is the right one to use. It matters to us. Using a trademark as a generic noun isn’t acceptable. Neither is making fake verbs from them. Words like aspirin and escalator were one trademarks, but their owners didn’t protect them and they fell into general usage.

The writing magazines that I read as a teenager contained ads from Kimberly-Clark Corp., a company that makes paper products. The most frequent ad went like this: “To all the writers, editors, copyeditors and proofreaders who use the trademark Kleenex followed by the words ‘facial tissue’, Kimberly-Clark says bless you.”

The company ran those ads to prove, if they ever needed to, that they tried to protect their trademark. The word Kleenex was and is in danger of falling into general usage, canceling out the rights of its trademark holder. And that’s fine with me actually. I’m long past any interest in intellectual property rights.

No novelist will ever write: “She cried so long she went through an entire box of Kleenex brand facial tissue.” But lawyers would like those hypothetical novelists better if they would.

In any case, using trademarks in writing is a no-no I know.

But Is Rototiller A Trademark?

The answer is no.

As it turns out, Rototiller doesn’t deserve the capital letter I’m placing at it’s beginning. The word rototiller is a perfectly acceptable term for any brand of rotary cultivator.

Truthfully, I’d rather write “rotary cultivator” or “rotary tiller”, but I can legally, ethically and confidently write about rototillers and rototilling (and watch my word processing software place a squiggly red line under every occurrence) if that’s what’s needed.

So why isn’t it a trademark? Was it ever?

The idea of rotary cultivation started to get attention in the United States in the 1920s. By the early 1930s, C.W. Kelsey had established The Rototiller Co., a New York enterprise aimed at importing European cultivators and selling them to Americans. Originally called “earth grinders” by some people, Kelsey trademarked the name Rototiller to refer to the rotary tilling machines he imported.

Rocky American soils damaged the sensitive European machines, and Kelsey soon started making his own rotary tillers. Several models were available, and other companies started making similar products.

Eventually, the trademark on the term Rototiller expired, leaving other makers free to call their machines by the name Kelsey established.

And they did.

That’s the short version of the story about how rototillers lost their trademark and their capital letter at the front.

Rotary cultivation may forever be known as rototilling. You may not care one way or the other what the process is called, and you may not even think much about the topic. That’s okay.

There is a subsection of humanity known by the term “writer”, and we worry about words so you need not bother with them yourself.

The Christmas Birthday Bloggers Club

Rejoice! For today is born in a rural area outside Fort Worth, Texas a blog post that collects Christmas-birthday bloggers in one location for the benefit of the world.

It may not matter much to you, but I always think it’s interesting when I find a person whose birthday is on Christmas day. As you may or may not know, that’s my birthday.

I tell people I was born on the same day as Jesus and Barbara Mandrell, but we’re not the only ones who claim December 25th as our birthday. The scientist Isaac Newton shares the same birth date as me, although his was in 1642 and mine was in 1972.

Other names you might recognize that belong to Christmas babies include Red Cross founder Clara Barton, singer Dido (just one year before me), actresses CCH Pounder and Sissy Spacek, singer Jimmy Buffett and science fiction pioneer Rod Serling.

Humphrey Bogart shares the same birthday too, kid.

In my vast search of the Internet’s many compelling blogs, however, I’ve only located two other bloggers who were born on Christmas. I’ve always known I was special, but I can’t believe that there aren’t more people who belong in this Christmas Birthday Bloggers Club that I’m officially starting right now.

I admit that locating other bloggers with Christmas birthdays hasn’t exactly been my life’s passion, but I think this topic is worth at least this one blog post, don’t you?

Here’s a little information about the two bloggers I’ve located so far who were born on Christmas day:

Matt Madeiro

I’ve followed Matt’s blog for a long time. I suppose I found him because he came to comment on my blog after one of my guest posts on someone else’s blog, but I don’t really remember. That may not be right at all.

In any case, Matt writes about three leaves of his life: losing weight, moving more and being happier — things he rightly believes we can achieve through living simple lives.

Dia Thabet

I’ve followed Dia’s blog for a long time too. In fact, he must have been one of the first bloggers I discovered when I started blogging, but I can’t remember for sure how I located him either.

Dia is a personal development coach and consultant who helps people achieve whatever they want. He has more than a decade of involvement in personal development topics including the law of attraction, positive thinking, time management and relationships.

And, then, of course, there’s me:
Gip Plaster

I write here at Gip’s Front Yard, but I also write at So Much More Life about simple, minimalist living.

I suggest that living a simple, deliberate life means eliminate the things from your life that separate you from the best possible version of yourself. Once you’ve done that, add in things only if they bring you closer to your ideal. Living a simple, deliberate life really is that simple.

Do you know other bloggers who were born on Christmas day? If you do, please share them with me and I’ll add them to this page.


Oh, never mind.

Is The High Maltose Corn Syrup In Fiber One Bars Just As Bad As HFCS?

The question is simple enough, and although the answer involves some complex science, so is the answer: Is the high maltose corn syrup found in many candies, bars (including Fiber One bars), baked good and beer as bad for you as the high fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks and a huge variety of processed foods?


Corn syrups are used in processed food because they act as preservatives and are cheaper than using real sugar to sweeten a product. Consumption of HFCS has increased rapidly since the 1980s as it has been included in more foods.

The Problem With High Fructose Corn Syrup

There are three big problems with HFCS, one of the most commonly used corn syrups.

First, this additive has been attacked by health advocates for being a major contributor to the obesity problem, particularly in the United States. That’s largely because it so common that it’s hard to avoid. Whether this particular syrup is worse for you than another is a debatable point, however, since all sugars contribute equally to weigh gain.

Second, the body metabolizes this sweetener in a way that makes it enter the bloodstream quicker than regular sugar, and that makes it potentially harmful for diabetics and others with difficulty tolerating sugars.

Third, high fructose corn syrup is actually sweeter, according to some people, and repeatedly consuming it supposedly increasing consumers’ appetites for sweetness. In other words, HFCS is so sweet that it may make those who eat it want even more sweets.

But What About High Maltose Corn Syrup?

People are particularly concerned about the use of high maltose corn syrup in Fiber One bars because these bars are sometimes viewed as health foods. That’s a mistaken judgment, however. While the fiber in Fiber One products has obvious beneficial effects, these bars are otherwise the same as candy.

The corn syrup in Fiber One bars is a sugar that contributes to weight gain and should therefore be avoided by those trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

High maltose corn syrup is made when an enzyme or acid breaks cornstarch down into a syrup that contains at least 35 percent maltose. The exact formula varies by maker.

Some believe this syrup is being used more frequently because it confuses consumers. When they see a label that shows HMCS instead of HFCS, they may assume a company has switched sweeteners to make the product healthier.

HMCS is actually a better manufacturing choice for some baked goods and bars, however, because it has different characteristics that HFCS.

High maltose corn syrup is a good choice for hard candy and is less likely to become sticky that its better known cousin. It also freezes at a lower point, making it a frequent additive in frozen desserts.

While there are fewer studies of this syrup than of HFCS, there is no evidence to suggest that it a better choice than any other sugar.

The Bottom Line

High fructose corn syrup has been discussed so much in the media that many consumers now have a negative reaction to it. High maltose corn syrup does not yet elicit an unfavorable response from consumers, so some manufacturers may use it instead of HFCS to confuse consumers. Others may simply use it because it is a better choice for their products.

Many fiber products contain sugar because fiber is difficult to stomach without it. Consumers have to choose if they are willing to accept consuming large quantities of processed sugar to make their fiber more palatable or if they prefer to get fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other healthy sources.

For people trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle, one processed sugar is essential the same as another, no matter the name. While there are complicated differences in how some processed sugars are digested, none belong in a healthy diet.

PayPal Calling: Call From 800-830-8574 Could Really Be PayPal

When an automated voice left a message a few weeks ago wanting me to call them back and confirm some transactions on my PayPal debit card account, it sounded suspicious to me.

Calling under the guise of confirming information is a classic scammer technique. For that reason, reputable companies don’t leave voicemails asking for personal information. Do they?

PayPal, a reputable company that boasts about having more than 100 million users, apparently does.

The call was from 800-830-8574 according to my cell phone’s caller ID, so I did an online search for the number and found some references to it actually being associated with PayPal. I also found warnings, however, indicating that such a thing must surely be a scam.

It certainly seemed like a scam.

After weighing my options, I decided to call back and see what happened. As long as I didn’t provide much information, there’s no way it could cause me a problem, and calling back would satisfy my journalistic curiosity.

Calling from the same number at which I was called, I got an automated system that asked only for the last four digits of my PayPal debit card. There’s nothing a criminal could do with only that piece of information — found on receipts and routinely sent in email purchase confirmations anyway — so I entered it.

I was relieved to find that the automated voice then told me who I was. I didn’t need to provide any personal information.

It wasn’t a scam. The number 800-830-8574 belonged to a bank acting on behalf of PayPal, calling to verify recent transactions on my debit card as a protection against fraud.

The automated voice read me my five most recent transactions, I confirmed each of them and the call ended.

That’s all it was.

Fortunately, I had recently read a blog post from a writer who warned that PayPal will suspend the debit card of users who don’t call back when asked to verify transactions, so I knew they sometimes ask for this kind of verification.

And since much of my writing income arrives by PayPal, I knew an immediate response was necessary if it really was PayPal calling so I wouldn’t lose access to my money.

It is important to point out that faking a phone number on caller ID is a simple thing to do, so seeing 800-830-8574 is not an indication that it’s actually someone calling on behalf of PayPal. PayPal or someone operating on their behalf could also call from another number, and they could discontinue use of this number at any time.

It’s also never a good idea to provide personal information by telephone. But if a caller can tell you who you are with only something as simple as the last four digits of your card number, it’s probably okay.

Whether it’s a good idea for PayPal and its debit card issuer to alarm their clients by asking them to discuss their debit cards by telephone is another matter entirely.

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